Author in Kahiko (ancient style) costume
Ethics of Fusion
As an Old
Style Cabaret dancer Iíll confess that fusion isnít my favorite
form of dance, but Iíve seen some extremely talented fusion style
Oriental Dancers use some highly innovative techniques and thoroughly
enjoyed many of these pieces. Iím not totally against fusion,
but I am deeply concerned.
the culture that youíre borrowing your moves from objects to your
fusion, does it matter? Are you being respectful or exploitative
if you borrow steps from a culture that doesnít want their music
and dance used that way?
attended the Bellydance Superstars show when it toured
through the Midwest and like everyone else, there were parts I
liked and parts I didnít like. But the one section that troubled
me the most was the ďBellynesianĒ section. I understand that this
dancer is not the only one combining aspects of Polynesian dance
with her Oriental Dance, but hers was the first opportunity Iíd
had to see this style of fusion. I understand that many people
are teaching/taking workshops where this new craze is taught and
Iíd like to share with you why those in the Polynesian and Polynesian
Dance community find the use of Polynesian dance and culture in
this manner extremely troubling.
Iím also a
Polynesian Dancer. Iíve been studying teaching and performing
this style for several years, and have had the opportunity to
study with Kumu Hulas (master hula teachers) and other
Polynesian dance masters (Tahitian, Samoan, Maori, etc) both on
the mainland and in Hawaii. When I talk to Polynesian people and
Polynesian dancers about fusion, they are horrified by the idea
of people taking aspects of their culture and art form and then
using it in another dance style.
are about as upset as you might be if you heard about some entertainer
in another country taking aspects of your religion (Eucharist,
Kaddish, etc) and incorporating it into their dancing for entertainmentÖ
The Trade Wind Dancers
left to right- Nicco in Auwana
costume (modern blue hula dress), Ashley
in Tahitian, author in Kahiko, Ann
some instances that is exactly what you might be doing! Polynesian
dance is a beautiful art form: the music, the dances, the nuances
of meaning behind those dances, the costuming. I can understand
completely why you would see this and want to include it in your
fusion style Oriental Dance. However, there is another aspect
to Polynesian dance. Not all Polynesian dance is secular (nonreligious).
Even those that are secular often have their roots in the mythology
and religion of the Polynesian people.
polled every Polynesian person and every Polynesian dancer in
the country, but I can tell you that those that I have talked
to are offended by this new fusion craze.
them "Bellynesian" is another example of exploitation
by outsiders and a terrible insult to their beliefs.
To read the
history of any of the Polynesian peoples is to read about being
conquered and exploited by whites. What the military and merchants
didnít steal and/or destroy was horrifically repressed by the
missionaries. The Polynesian culture was almost made extinct by
this, not just in Hawaii but Tahiti, Samoa, New Zealand, Fiji,
Tonga and many, many others. What has been preserved has been
done so by the hard work and efforts of the Polynesian people
to retain what little of their culture wasnít stolen from them
in the name of the almighty dollar, Victorian sensibilities and
religious extremism. For a real eye opener, try researching information
on how the Kumu Hulas courageously hid hula, their mythology,
dance, culture, music and even their language from the Missionaries
in order to save it.
it werenít for these Kumus, this culture might have been entirely
Right up to
the 1970ís there was a lot of pressure put on native Hawaiian
schoolchildren to not speak Hawaiian and not perform their ancient
dances.† Auwana style (modern) hulas were okay, but dances in
honor of the old Gods were not. Those that wanted to learn the
old hula were ridiculed and in some cases expelled from their
schools for learning the traditional dances, chants and language.
Can you imagine the pride that the Polynesian people now feel
because, in spite of people going to great lengths to destroy
their culture, they were able to preserve it? Or, 'the reverence
they feel towards their culture in light of what theyíve had to
do in their own countries to keep what is theirs from being destroyed
Our group with our implements-
p'uili (split bamboo rhythm sticks)
uli uli (feathered gourds)
people have worked and fought very hard to retain their culture
and rightfully take a deep pride in what has been preserved. Some
Polynesians resent that someone like me, a Haole (white person),
has even been taught Hula, especially the Kahiko (ancient and
often religious) style of Hula. Only by proving to those Kumu
willing to teach us that we do respect and honor this art form
have we had the privilege to learn it. Itís taken years of hard
work by those Haoleís in the Polynesian dance community to prove
that we are worthy of being taught some of these dances.
along comes "bellynesian"! This is exactly what many
feared! That non-Polynesian people would take these dances out
of context and exploit them, change them, and abuse them.
When you take
aspects of Polynesian dance, music and costuming, and fuse it
into your dance you may think you are showing your admiration
and respect for the Polynesian culture and people. You may think
that itís harmless because, after all, itís so pretty and fun
why shouldnít you? All those beautiful flower leis and hakus (headpieces),
all those cool hau skirts and iiís (Tahitian grass skirts, and
hand tassels), all the neat implements like Maori Poi Balls and
uli uli (Hawaiian feathered gourds). I can understand your attractionÖ
author holding an ipu
But when you
fuse things like Tahitian hip moves, Maori Poi balls, and other
aspects of the culture into your Oriental Dance, it isnít interpreted
that you respect or admire Polynesian dance, it's taken as a huge
in the Polynesian community and Polynesian Dance community see
this as another example of exploitation, of complete disregard
and lack of respect for their viewpoint, their culture and their
using Poi Balls in your tribal dances, Tahitian hip moves in your
drum solos or Hula in your dance? How is that any different than
what was done in previous centuries to exploit the Polynesian
culture for personal and financial gain?
To put this
in perspective, how do you think African American people felt,
when during the vaudeville era, whites would put on ďblack faceĒ
make-up and perform? Exploiting Polynesian culture for your Oriental
Dance is pretty much on the same plane. Just as youíve learned
that itís rude to show the palm of your hand to an Arab during
a dance, or that itís an insult to show the bottom of your feet,
Iím hoping that you will try and understand that fusion of Polynesian
dance into any other form of dance is a horrible insult.
I truly understand
the interest in Polynesian dance and culture, but if you really
are interested why not show your respect and admiration for this
culture and art? Learn the dances! Study the history! Help preserve
this wonderful art form. †Many of the Polynesian teachers I have
had the privilege to study with have recognized that their culture
is being lost and that the best way to preserve it is to teach
it to those who love and truly respect it enough to learn and
help preserve it. Show them a real willingness to respect their
culture, learn the dances and keep them pure.
donít exploit and insult an entire society by making a mockery
of the dance. Yes, itís hard work, and will take time, but you
will have the privilege of learning about a wonderful culture
in the process.
you) for taking the time to read this.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
Sonya in 2006 BDSS show
Belly Dance Superstars ~Raks
Carnivale! Review by Dondi Simone Dahlin
I jaded because I was part of the company for so long? Am I unable
to view the show from unbiased lenses? How I yearn to have virgin
eyes, seeing belly dance for the first time.
is Not a Review: Bellydance Superstars Commentary by Najia
lies one major flaw concerning the concept of superstardom in
Bellydance: choreography. While choreography is a form of quality
assurance, it is also assurance that the quality attained will
be less than stellar in Bellydance!
The Constant Grind
by Margo Abdo O'Dell
Today, the bitter truth is that the curvaceous and fleshy
female figure is constantly disrespected by the media and pop
Opening a Bellydance Studio,
Tips for Success by Keti Sharif
She has recently retired fully from bellydancing but
offers great advice on business plans for dancers wishing to expand
their hobby into a career.
Adventures in Turkey 2006
by Michelle Joyce, photos by Michael Baxter
I am not exaggerating when I say that Sandra actually
threw herself into Bella's arms and wept when she first laid eyes